Saturday, August 20, 2016

Five rings to bind them all

The Olympics have inspired me to start exercising again.

(Published in Business Standard today)

In boarding school, a friend of mine sneered that the most active thing he’d ever seen me do was sneeze. It’s true that I spent most of our games periods hiding behind a curtain in my dorm, drinking tea and reading, but I bet he was just jealous of my washboard abs and .001% body fat, which I’d achieved from years of being a teenager.

But that was a long time ago. Since then, I have been a more or less regular exerciser, though I go through phases. At the moment I’m in what you could call my ‘resting bitch phase’. In it, I have gone from being in the best shape of my life eight months ago, to being in the worst. I have grown roots in the sofa, let my muscle run to fat, and lost the will to do anything more active than breathe between morsels of fried food. My blood pressure is suddenly a thing. The horizon of my health has shrunk to the ungentle curve of my belly.

Or it had, until the Olympics began. I have finally kicked myself into brisk walks in the park again, in solidarity with the Games, because, frankly, nothing inspires me to get off my butt as much as watching the incredible performance of our Indian officials in Rio.

I assume you saw that Scoopwhoop story about how Vijay Goel, Sports Minister, misspelled gymnast Dipa Karmakar’s name in a tweet, and almost got his accreditation revoked, and how officials flew business to Rio while athletes went economy, and how the team doctor isn’t a sports doctor but a radiologist, and how they first said it would be wasteful to fly Karmakar’s physiotherapist to Rio, and how officials hung out on beaches and went sightseeing during Olympic events? Did you see the Quartz story on how the sports ministry organised a grand reception for the athletes at the Olympian Reunion Centre on Independence Day, at which they pulled out all the stops and served…wait for it…peanuts?

Thinking about all that really gets my blood up, so I’ve been using the momentum to heave my thunder thighs around the park.

The other thing that creates enough adrenaline to propel me out the door is reading all the sanctimonious tweets referring to Sakshi Malik, the women’s wrestling bronze medallist, as ‘India’s daughter’. It’s always irritating that we can’t relate to a woman normally unless she’s part of the family—daughter, mother, sister, wife—and therefore officially has no lady parts. But in this case it’s particularly nauseating because we wouldn’t know sports culture if it ran up to us and did 500 pull-ups while spitting in our eye. We don’t encourage or nurture sports, and we treat our athletes like dirt, completely ignoring them before and after any medal-winning—so Sakshi Malik, like most Indian sportspeople, got to where she is despite official India. Our athletes have genuine fans across the country, but for the Indian state to suddenly try to clasp medal-winners to its miserly bosom and appropriate their success is a joke. Sakshi Malik’s medal is her individual and singular accomplishment. So is P.V. Sindhu’s badminton medal. So is Dipa Karmakar’s loss-by-a-whisker. So is the surprise that is 18-year-old golfer Aditi Ashok.

Have you noticed that the Indians who have made us proudest at Rio are all women? This is the first Olympics at which so many people have called out the revolting sexism of sports reporting, so #JustSaying.

Maybe I don’t have to walk today—I must have burned 300 calories just feeling my feelings.

Saturday, August 06, 2016

Dear John letter to the USA

It was nice knowing you

(Published on August 6, 2016 in Business Standard)

Dear America,

I keep close tabs on you, and you don’t know that I exist. That’s okay. I have loved you quietly—your beautiful constitution, your can-do spirit, your great lovely wild spaces, your music and your movies, especially Ice Age even though the new one sucks, your ability to think big, and your willingness to respect excellence and imagination.

But it’s true love, not blind love. I know you neck with the Saudis. I know you hold hands with Pakistan. I know you are an unequal society. I know that for every liberty you defend, you quietly abrogate another. I know you’re insular, greedy, spoiled, and you keep getting into brawls and making doody on other people’s carpets. Still, I love your team spirit and your protection of individual rights, and the fact that you appreciate the creative possibilities of challenge and disruption.

But even from my disempowered position, even though I’m the one with the feelings, I’m biting the bullet to say two things: 1) It’s over between us, and 2) It’s not me, it’s you.

Because, frankly, you’ve become mad as a bag of frogs.

You’re the richest country in the world, the mightiest, with the best incubators of innovation, technology, research, and intellectual progress. You gave us modern aviation. You gave us the Internet. You put the first man on the moon, for god’s sake. You currently have, in office, a man who represents the best of America—a smart, inclusive, funny, liberal-minded, melting pot of a man who, in a world gone increasingly bonkers, makes the US look really good, and sings beautifully to boot. No matter whether the rest of us love you or hate you, we take you seriously.

So far.

Look, I get the fooling around with the Saudis thing—you’re addicted to oil, you have double standards on human rights, you can’t help yourself. I get the necking with Pakistan thing—you don’t understand the region, or the mind-set of non-state combatants, you need local backup. I get the consumerist obsession—you have built your country on the belief that creating ever more desire for ever more consumption is the purpose of life.

But I cannot forgive you for your flirtation with The Donald. That just displays a degree of self-destructiveness that is going to wreck your life, and all your relationships.

It might be entertaining for us in the rest of the world to watch your slo-mo train wreck of an election, but it also makes our blood run cold. Thanks to our own recent experience here in India, we’re in a position to appreciate all the dramatic irony. Here, too, we elected an exclusivist, paranoid demagogue who talked development and walked the worst, basest instincts in people. We, too, had a large section of people who simply did not believe that he could actually possibly get elected. Everyone was going to come to their senses before voting day. Right? They were going to watch the tenor of the campaign—strong appeals to Hindu supremacist instincts, disturbingly vague promises of ‘development’. Right? Except they didn’t—or worse, they did, and they liked it. What we’ve got to show for it is massive unrest, violent vigilantism, ugly jingoism, and social regression—and lots of voters moaning that they made a huge mistake.

I can’t watch you go through that, so I’m breaking up with you for now. You’ll show your true colours in November, at which point I’ll reconsider. I may never mean anything to you; but I would love for you to continue to mean something to me.

With love for old times’ sake, but also some hollow laughter,